What can Marriage Pact tell us about dating at Brandeis?
Two semesters of facilitated matchmaking have yielded little more than empty hype – where does the blame lie?
For the second semester in a row, the matchmaking service Marriage Pact, which pairs ostensibly romantically-compatible students at 78 participating universities through an anonymous 50-question survey, has come to Brandeis. Just like last time, a third of Brandeis’ undergraduate population participated. Also, just like last time, the buzz flatlined almost immediately after matches were released.
On the night of Nov. 16, those who filled out the questionnaire were sent an email with the subject line “Match Announcement,” fire emojis ablaze on both ends. The email stressed the imperfections of the algorithm and asked that participants maintain decorum, before finally delivering full names and email addresses.
That’s where, for most, the story ended. Despite the hype,though markedly less enthusiastic than last spring, Marriage Pact’s attempt at playing Cupid has failed yet again. Students took to the Brandeis-specific social media app, Sidechat, to voice their disappointment.
“my marriage pact is not hot… to say the least…”
“Why does my marriage pact have a gf [sic]”
“Did anyone get matched with someone they like?”
That last post had 11 comments, all of which read, simply, “no.”
In the months since it first appeared at Brandeis in Feb. 2022, Marriage Pact has become known on this campus as a lead balloon. But where exactly did it fall short? Was it the questions the survey asked, a bug in the algorithm? Or, did the program run exactly as it was meant to, in fact, never promising anything at all?
Students say that Brandeis differs from many other universities in its relative lack of a hookup culture. “It’s definitely not a hookup school,” David Merges ’25 told the Justice over Zoom on Oct. 17. “Everybody knows everybody, so it’s hard to have something purely casual.” Of course, flings happen, but at a school with small, unrecognized Greek life, casual hookups aren’t exactly encouraged.
“People get weirdly labeled if they’re into hookup culture,” Merges said. Last semester, his Marriage Pact match turned out to be a mutual friend: Eva Smith ’25, who was also present during the interview. He continued, “A lot of people here didn’t have a lot of experiences in high school — maybe they’re stuck in that.” Smith added, “No hate, but most kids here don’t really have social skills.”
Merges and Smith spoke to the validity of the survey. “It was pretty impressive that we got matched —I’d been told before that I was the female version of David,” Smith said.
Niche, a popular college ranking and review site, gave Brandeis’ student life and party scene a grade of C based on more than 15 sources. This kind of environment doesn’t exactly breed an excessively outgoing student body. Marriage Pact does help students bypass the familiar hurdle of disparate ideologies in dating, but importantly, the responsibility of reaching out and forming a connection lies with participants.
“I know a lot of people who were scared to take that second step even though they found the other person attractive,” Merges said. “So you got a name — now you actually have to do something about it.”
Merges got lucky with his match since he wasn’t looking for anything romantic and got paired with someone he already knew. But of those in search of bona fide romance, he said, “You can’t really say that nothing comes of it if you don’t try to reach out.”
One anonymous junior was one of over 1,100 students who participated in Brandeis’ first Marriage Pact in Spring 2022. “I just did it because everyone else was doing it, too — it seemed funny,” she said during an interview with the Justice on Oct. 16.
She didn’t know when she filled out the survey that she would soon be one half of a successful Brandeis Marriage Pact relationship — the only one currently known to the Justice.
She thought the survey was so silly that she let her friends input joke answers to some of the prompts, though she couldn’t remember which ones. It could’ve been “Do you believe in soulmates?” or “I generally like to take control during sex,” or “Would you keep a gun in your house?” she told the Justice. Her results may have differed if, like other students, she had been completely sincere in her survey — perhaps she wouldn’t have been paired with her current boyfriend, an unnamed junior, whose friends did the same thing.
Marriage Pact’s website touts a 3-4% success rate. For 1,200 students, that figure amounts to 36, meaning that nine new couples should have won the matchmaking lottery. So far, the anonymous junior and her match – now boyfriend – are the only recorded victors.
“When I first got the email, I thought to myself, I’ve never heard of this man in my life,” she said. A few days later, she received a direct message from her match on Instagram.
“We chatted for a few days, and then one night I was out when a frat party got shut down by the police —– he had asked me to hang out sometime. It was still early in the night, so I replied, ‘How about right now?’”
They met up, she said, and she admittedly acted a bit too aloof. “I was being so rude to him, but he still wanted to keep talking.” In her own words, it took a couple hangouts for her to warm up to him. There wasn’t an initial “click,” but the pair slowly built the groundwork for a lasting partnership.
“The questions weren’t the reason we hit it off,” she said. “It was more like a fun way to meet someone — it took some of the pressure off.” The survey proved not to be an algorithmic scientific guarantee of compatibility, but a “meet-cute.”
Marriage Pact doesn’t ask any questions about physical type or preferences. In the shuffle of finding a photo of your match, which is not provided in the email, people seem to forget that this is a person whose social and political opinions match their own.
Smith and Merges coincidentally look alike —“Have you heard the conspiracy that we’re the same person?” they both said at once— but the matchmaking service requires that its participants be interested in long-term, viable compatibility over attractiveness.
However, many students, evidenced by Sidechat, found a photo of their match that they said dashed all hope of a viable relationship. Unfortunately, this is a pattern at Brandeis — most understand the concept of “Brandeis goggles.” These metaphorical lenses reportedly obscure normal standards of attractiveness to accommodate lower standards. The Brandeis Hoot published an op-ed in 2007 that alluded to a rather shocking adage, apparently popular at the time: “nine out of ten Jewish girls are pretty and the tenth goes to Brandeis.”
“I think Brandeisians get a bad rap,” Merges said. “We have enough good people that there should be more [couples] coming out of something like Marriage Pact.” Yet even when served a possible match on a silver platter, few students end up reaching out at all.
It’s only been three days since this semester’s Marriage Pact results were released, and already campus conversation has completely moved on. Sidechat’s homepage no longer sings of “ugly” matches, but of Usdan dining or finals dread. Once again, the matchmaking service has proved to be little more than a temporary distraction.
Many consider Marriage Pact to be nothing more than an exciting activity. “I was actually in a relationship when I filled it out,” Smith said, “but I think it’s fun to find people who are similar to me.”
It’s important to note that other schools experience the same Marriage Pact fatigue — articles have appeared in student newspapers at Columbia University and New York University bemoaning the survey’s failures. Shockingly, it seems that social awkwardness as a phenomenon exists at other schools, too. While Marriage Pact’s reception at Brandeis is illuminating, it also doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Then again, maybe it’s much simpler than that. Maybe the concept is too weak to be real matchmaking — maybe it’s just an opportunity for students to learn something more about themselves, or a rare chance to take a quiz that isn’t graded.